Forming the Bible Canon

Jan 15, 2023 4:31 AM
Bible Canon
Table of Contents

In most Protestant Bibles, There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. The Catholic Bible also includes the Apocrypha, which contains an additional 15 books. Then there are the Gnostic writings known as the codices, which were found in Nag Hammadi. With so many texts floating around how did they know what was supposed to be included and what wasn't? This is an important question for us to ask and investigate in our journey as believers.

The text below is initial research I did on this topic when I started my re-read of the Bible in May 2015. I intend to clean this up and republish, including finishing the topics on the Apocrypha and Gnostic writings.

The Old Testament

There are two versions of the Old Testament—the original Hebrew which does not include the Apocrypha, and the Greek translation which does.[5] By the time of Jesus, there was an accepted canon of which Jesus frequently quotes.[1][2] Jesus also confirms the Old Testament by referencing the three divisions of the Old Testament in Luke 24:44. BiblicalTraining.org has a thorough article on the canonization of the Old Testament which can be found here. Many discoveries concerning the Old Testament stem from the archeological find of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The New Testament

The New Testament is much more complicated in terms of how the cannon was determined. Jesus confirmed the books of the Old Testament by fulfilling prophecies, quoting the scripture, and not condemning the books. If there was a problem or forgery in the Old Testament, Jesus would have called the Pharisees out on this error (after all He called them out on many other misguided practices). However, we don't have that luxury for the New Testament. In addition to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there are also gospels attributed to Mary Magdalene, Peter, James, Thomas, and others.[3] How did people determine which should be included and which should not? Also, how do we know they chose the right books?

Bible.org gives an overview on the canonization of the New (and Old) Testament in the article The Bible: The Holy Canon of Scripture. Most believers use the following criteria to confirm scripture as canon:[4]

  • Authorship
  • Witness of the Spirit
  • Acceptance

Prayer and relationship with God is the only way to know for sure what is right. The best covering of this topic I've found can be found in the article entitled "How Do You Know that the Bible is Divinely Inspired."

The Apocrypha

Coming Soon!

Gnostic Writings

Coming Soon!

Current Books Considered Canon

The following table lists the books currently considered to be inspired by some (or all) denominations within Christianity.

Old Testament Canon

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Numbers
  4. Deuteronomy
  5. Leviticus
  6. Joshua
  7. Judges
  8. Ruth
  9. 1 Samuel
  10. 2 Samuel
  11. 1 Kings
  12. 2 Kings
  13. 1 Chronicles
  1. 2 Chronicles
  2. Ezra
  3. Nehemiah
  4. Ester
  5. Job
  6. Proverbs
  7. Psalms
  8. Ecclesiastes
  9. Song of Solomon
  10. Isaiah
  11. Jeremiah
  12. Lamentations
  13. Ezekiel
  1. Daniel
  2. Hosea
  3. Joel
  4. Amos
  5. Obadiah
  6. Jonah
  7. Micah
  8. Nahum
  9. Habakkuk
  10. Zephaniah
  11. Haggai
  12. Zechariah
  13. Malachi

New Testament Canon

  1. Matthew
  2. Mark
  3. Luke
  4. John
  5. Acts
  6. Romans
  7. 1 Corinthians
  8. 2 Corinthians
  9. Galatians
  10. Ephesians
  11. Philippians
  12. Colossians
  13. 1 Thessalonians
  14. 2 Thessalonians
  1. 1 Timothy
  2. 2 Timothy
  3. Titus
  4. Philemon
  5. Hebrews
  6. James
  7. 1 Peter
  8. 2 Peter
  9. 1 John
  10. 2 John
  11. 3 John
  12. Jude
  13. Revelation

Apocrypha (Catholic Version) [6]

  1. 1 Esdras
  2. 2 Esdras
  3. Tobit
  4. Judith
  5. The Additions to the Book of Esther
  6. Wisdom of Solomon
  7. Sirach
  8. Baruch
  9. Story of Susanna
  10. The Song of Three Children
  11. The Story of Bel and the Dragon
  12. The Prayer of Manasseh
  13. 1 Macabees
  14. 2 Macabees

References & Footnotes

  1. Robinson, Rich. "Jesus' References to Old Testament Scriptures". Jews for Jesus. September 2008
  2. "The Canon of the Old Testament". BibleScripture.net. 2015
  3. "Noncanonical Literature-Gospels". Wesley Center Online. Northwest Nazarene University. 2011
  4. The Canon of Scripture.” BlueLetterBible.org. 2015
  5. McDowell, Josh. "What is the Apocrypha? Why Aren’t These Books Found in the Protestant Bible?". Josh.org. 2014
  6. There are actually a few accepted versions of the Apocrypha across Orthodox, Catholic, and Ethiopian traditions (I didn’t know that in 2015!)
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